Designing a STEM Innovation Center for Mound Fort Junior High School

Article By Mike Posthumus and Charlie Gaidica

Rob Stettler is the type of teacher any parent would want for their child. He has big ideas about what students can do and pushes every learner to reach the goals they set.

Until recently, there was just one huge problem: Rob’s classroom space wasn’t equipped to help his aspiring engineers, computer scientists, biologists, and doctors practice the skills they needed to succeed in STEM disciplines after leaving Mound Fort Junior High School.

His “cells-and-bells” learning environment just wasn’t cutting it. Something needed to change.

The Background

The Ogden School District in Ogden, Utah, is a socially and economically diverse community of learners situated in an urban landscape that provides proximity to educational, industrial, and business leaders.

With these conditions in place, the district recently adopted a district-wide effort aimed at meaningful and relevant individualized learning. The district recognized that regional industry and business partnerships could play an important role in strengthening connections between the concepts students were learning and their application beyond the school walls.

However, the district was handcuffed by the constraints of traditional cell-block classrooms and needed a fresh vision for merging individualized learning with innovative spaces.

The Solution

Embracing that learning environments must support the experiences a school offers its students, the district pledged to build a STEM Innovation Center at Mound Fort.

The district’s commitment to individualized, project-based learning and community engagement and improvement directly aligned with Fielding International’s approach to learning environment design, leading to a natural partnership.

Local architects Design West rounded out the collaborative team with ways to transform Mound Fort Junior High’s STEM education efforts.

The Process

As Fielding International’s integrated team of architects and educators led workshops and visioning sessions about Ogden’s students’ futures and the future of learning, it quickly became clear that Mound Fort could serve as a model of reinvented learning for the entire district.

This belief became a driving force for the final design of the Innovation Center.  A framework of big ideas could even act as design principles for the types of spaces the district was looking to create for its students, both now and in the future.

A team of school leaders, architects, educators, and community members began to explore the question, “How can we make the building itself a tool for learning in unique and meaningful ways?”

From that collaborative process, the goal of the project became to create spaces that naturally reinforce project-based learning, allow students to practice 21st-century skills, and strengthen the capacities and habits of mind that offer students an advantage far beyond junior high school.

The Innovation Center was designed as a tool to help model active, collaborative, and inventive teaching and learning for every inhabitant:

        • The extensive, open project commons allows classes to spread out, gather to share their work, or display formal exhibitions.
        • Large spaces between this commons area and the lab areas encourage self-directed inquiry or station-based instruction.
        • Ample transparency allows teams of teachers to supervise their students as they move through the center.
        • A centrally-located makerspace is equipped with tools and resources for rapid prototyping and iterative design.
        • The spaces are further supported by an enclosed 3D-printing hub and a “dusty” workshop to tackle the truly big ideas that students develop.
        • Finally, the innovation center is anchored by a teacher collaboration room, where STEM educators can convene and collaborate.

The Conclusion

The successful partnership between the Ogden School District, Fielding International, Design West, educators, learners, and the community proves that no problem is too big when it comes to providing learning environments that inspire, educate, and allow teachers, like Rob Stettler, to bring big ideas for teaching and learning to life.

A Look at Our Process

A team of school leaders, architects, educators, and community members began to explore the question, “How can we make the building itself a tool for learning in unique and meaningful ways?” From that collaborative process, the goal of the project became to create spaces that naturally reinforce project-based learning, allow students to practice 21st-century skills, and strengthen the capacities and habits of mind that offer students an advantage far beyond junior high school.